By Andrea Thorpe, L.Ac.
Recent research is now pointing towards something that Chinese medicine has been explaining for thousands of years. 80% of your immunity potential lies in your gut. Studies indicate that a balance between good and bad bacteria in the large intestine is a significant determinant of your potential to ward off pathogenic illnesses such as colds and more importantly the flu.
In Chinese medicine the large intestine and the lungs are considered a single organ system and their function and effectiveness are inextricably linked. Thus, the health of one organ will have a direct impact on the functioning and health of the other. To doctors of Chinese medicine it does not come as a surprise that the integrity of your large intestine will have a direct impact on your ability to ward off harmful pathogens, as it is directly related to the lungs.
So why is the integrity of the large intestine and the lungs so important to a persons immunity?
First, let me explain the Chinese medical theory of what a cold/flu is. The concept of viruses and bacteria is fairly recent in Western medical history, for thousands of years the Chinese observed how the incidence of colds grew during the changes of the seasons. They observed that the body was in fact being invaded by external pathogens that were called Wind pathogens. Now let’s see how this relates to the lungs.
The integrity of the lungs is vital to the body’s ability to ward of a pathogenic wind invasion. The lungs function by circulating a refined fluid (Jin Ye) in the space that runs between the skin and the muscles and this moisture conveys protection to the skin. The Lungs are also in charge of opening and the closing of the pores in the skin, which is crucial as the skin is the first organ wind comes into contact with. Sudden changes in temperature and humidity, such as the Santa Ana winds that sweep through LA during the Autumn months, require the lungs to work with extra zeal to protect the skin/pores and to stop the entry of wind into the body.
Having established the importance of the lungs and the skin in warding off pathogens now let’s see how the large intestine is involved in this process.
The ancients refer to the skin as an extension of the lungs. They also wrote, in a rather poetic fashion, how the condition of the skin is a reflection of the condition of the large Intestine:
“ when the skin is thick the large intestine is thick…when the skin and flesh cannot be separated the large intestine is coiled”. The text refers to the interrelationship between organs and organ systems which is at the heart of our medicine. The large intestine functions by absorbing fluids and sending them back up to the lungs to be circulated to the skin. If the large intestine is THICK, this function will be compromised and the skin dry and devoid of protection. In conclusion, if you keep the bowels healthy and stop them from getting THICK your immune system will be much stronger.
Andrea Thorpe is a licensed acupuncturist who specializes in pediatrics, women’s health and internal medicine at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica.